A crème brûlée is one of those delicate French deserts which we Brits adore and worship from afar but probably never attempt to make. Add it to the collection along with soufflé, mille-feuille and croquembouche. Even the name ‘crème brûlée’ doesn’t help (does it really need this many accents?!).
I’ve started taking French lessons. I have had six so far and my somewhat shaky confidence, my belief that I held a je ne sais quoi whenever I spoke French, is crumbling around me. There is a big difference between teaching yourself – hence no speaking out loud, I’ll add, unless you want to sound crazy – and sitting in a Zoom class with three others all communicating in French for a whole hour.
If I’m alone with Harry Potter et les Reliques de la Mort, in my head I’m practically fluent. In class, asking my classmates what do they do at the weekend is another story. And I’ve quickly followed everyone else’s lead and turned off my camera! My blushes are just for myself.
So, in order to encompass myself in ‘French living’, I made crème brûlées – not the most intrinsic part of French life but good enough. Indeed, my own Frenchman is far more partial to a chocolate eclair, chocolate mousse or just a jar of Nutella than all this crème brûlée faff. I proudly told him that I was making a dessert from his homeland and all he did was correct my pronunciation. (FYI it’s ‘bruleh’ not ‘brulay’, although it’s hilarious to repeat creme brooLAY to a despairing French person. Definitely try it sometime.)
While there are amazingly imaginative recipes online which infuse the custard with pistachio and honey, espresso, or maple syrup, I wanted to make the most of our glass soufflé-dishes and layer my dessert with colours. This is where the raspberry and hazelnut come in.
The pop of fuchsia at the bottom of the dish is almost as satisfying as the tangy sourness, a fruity complement to the cream. While some people can eat a whole pot of set custard, my mother included, I like a bit of variety in life. Which is why one flavour wasn’t enough! Even just recounting this story and I’m rolling my eyes at myself, dear reader. So I had to make hazelnut nougatine.
Nougatine is similar to praline, however, in this case the nuts are chopped and toasted prior to coating in caramel, giving it a stronger nuttier taste and smoother bite. Once my hazelnuts were tossed in the sticky caramel and cool, I then blitzed them in the food processor until smooth and creamy, like hazelnut butter, ready for scooping up with a spoonful of custard.
Plus, the beauty of French desserts is that they know how to keep them small – petit, if you will. A mere morsel of sweetness and one is satisfied. (Although tell that to me and Gaylord when we’re sitting on the sofa sharing a serving bowl of chocolate mousse for four.) A ramekin of crème brûlée which is rich, smooth and well-balanced with flavours, is just enough.
Aside from learning French conversation, dictation and pronunciation, my next French homework will be soufflés I think.
P.S Enjoy the blowtorching – but please read this before you go crazy!
Raspberry and Hazelnut Crème Brûlée
Adapted from Leiths How to Cook
For the nougatine
- 100g hazelnuts, skinned
- 150g caster sugar
For the raspberry coulis
- 150g raspberries (I used frozen raspberries)
- 80g caster sugar
For the crème brûlée
- 300ml double cream
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 tbsp caster sugar + 1 tsp extra for the topping
- Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F. Quickly crush the hazelnuts in a food processor, with a pestle and mortar, or chop them with a knife. Tip them onto a baking tray and toast for 5-10 minutes until golden and fragrant.
- Meanwhile make a dry caramel. Sprinkle the sugar in an even layer in the frying pan and set it over medium-low heat. Don’t stir or touch the sugar. Keep your eye on it as the sugar melts and darkens, and swirl the pan every now and then to encourage sugar around the edge to melt. Prepare a tray lined with baking parchment.
- When all the sugar becomes caramel, remove from the heat. Quickly add the nuts, stir together to combine and tip onto the lined tray to set and cool.
- Make the raspberry coulis by adding the raspberries and sugar in a saucepan and setting over medium heat. Let the sugar dissolve and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until it has reduced by half then remove from the heat.
- Once the nougatine is cold, break it into chunks and add to a food processor. Blitz it until ground to dust then keep going until creamy and spreadable.
- Spread a heaped teaspoonful of nougatine in the bottom of four ramekins. Top with a couple of teaspoons of raspberry coulis and spread it to the edges.
- Preheat the oven to 150C/130C fan/300F. Pour the cream into a saucepan and add the vanilla. Put over medium heat and warm it until it is nearly simmering and produces steam. Remove from the heat to cool slightly.
- In a bowl, mix together the yolks and sugar. Slowly pour in the cooled cream, stirring all the time.
- Using a sieve, strain the custard into the ramekins on top of the raspberry and hazelnut layers. Make sure you are next to the oven for this part – don’t carry a precarious tray of hot water across the kitchen! Put the full ramekins in a high sided roasting dish and fill it with boiling water until three-quarters up the sides of the ramekins. Carefully slide the tray into the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, until a skin has formed on the top of the crèmes.
- Remove them from the hot water and leave them to cool at room temperature before putting in the fridge to set overnight.
- An hour before serving, sprinkle a teaspoon of caster sugar over the surface of the crème brûlées. Wipe away any excess sugar on the edge of the ramekin. Using a blowtorch, carefully melt the sugar until melted and golden in patches. Don’t hold it too close as it might burn the sugar. If you don’t have blowtorch, melt the sugar under a hot grill, moving them occasionally to keep the colour even. (NB crème brûlées are high maintenance – don’t leave sugar on the surface without melting it as it can get wet and crystalise. Once melted don’t put it in the fridge as the caramel will become liquid.) Serve immediately.